Don’t Let Anxiety Keep You from Speaking at SAP TechEd
Do you have an excellent idea that would be perfect to present at SAP TechEd ’07 Las Vegas, Munich, or Bangalore, but are anxious about speaking in public? Not to fear, public speaking is as much of a learned skill as learning ABAP programming is. Update: The deadline has been extended until Sunday, May 6 at 11:59 p.m. PDT to submit your session proposal for the SDN and BPX Community sessions at SAP TechEd ’07. I’m starting this blog series to provide you with skills to not only share your SAP knowledge in blogs, forums, wiki entries, and white papers, but also to share your skills through presentations. These public speaking skills aren’t strictly useful for presenting at SAP TechEd, but you can also put them to use in podcasts or webinars, not to mention that these skills can come in handy at your daily job. Speaking anxiety might feel like an impossible mountain to overcome with fear and doubt always creeping into your thoughts when you start to present. Some people have the fear of speaking so badly that it creates a physical reaction–they start to sweat, shake, and lose their voice. However, with some relaxation and meditation skills and little bit of practice this fear can be conquered. Speaking from experience, I was able to conquer my own speaking anxiety. In my former life before I joined SAP, I was studying Communication at the University of Utah. During my studies, I was a teaching assistant and was responsible for teaching an introductory course on Communication to freshman. My first day of teaching was a complete disaster. Before the class started, I was sitting outside the room just letting the fear build and dread overcome my emotions, and by the time I entered the room I was a total wreck. I walked in–I was shaking so badly I could barely function; I was breathing so fast and shallow I was hyperventilating; words barely came out of my mouth when I tried to speak. I had to cancel the class and run out of the room as fast as possible. So now what was I going to do, I had to teach this class for the entire semester, and considering this job was paying my tuition–there was no way I was going to quit. I had to find a way to overcome my fear and fast. From talking to friends and colleagues, here are the skills that I learned to help me overcome my fear and get back into the classroom. Relaxation and MeditationListing to peaceful music and getting into a calm mood before entering a speaking situation can help lessen or relieve the physical reaction to fear. The physical reaction to anxiety is just your body overdosing on adrenalin. Working on keeping calm will help control the release of this substance into your body. Also, adrenalin in small amounts will work to your advantage in speaking, it helps you focus and keep you on your toes for whatever speaking situation may happen. So if you have a little adrenalin boost, use it to your advantage! Take relaxation and meditation to the next step by visualizing. Sit in a quiet room and imagine yourself in front of a group of people giving a presentation. See yourself as calm and collected, speaking in a strong and confident voice; visualize the audience being so attentive they are hanging on every word. If you have a chance to check out the room you are presenting in before you speak, then visualize your presentation in that room. The more specific details you can focus on while visualizing giving a successful presentation will help you give that successful presentation in real life. Seeing the Audience as IndividualsThis tip was huge for me. In that first class, I was overwhelmed by the number of faces staring up at me. I saw the audience as a group and not as individuals. To overcome this, I went to my next class early and sat in the room as each person walked. As they walked in, I could focus on each person as an individual. I could look at each one’s face and see who they were, and not see them as the “mob”. Plus, once I did stand up and start speaking, I could pick out the individual faces throughout the room. Remember these people haven’t gathered together to judge or evaluate you. They are there because they are interested in hearing what you have to say. These people in the audience are really thinking about themselves and how they can take the knowledge you give them and apply it to their lives. Practice!!!!!!!I cannot overstate how important practicing is. Every time you speak, practice before you give the presentation. I don’t just mean go through the presentation in your head; I mean verbalize it and say it out loud. Start by standing in front of a mirror and go through the whole presentation. Next practice in front of friends, family, or colleagues you trust. Get their feed back! A video recorder can also be your best friend while preparing for speech. Tape yourself presenting, and see what you do well in addition to what you can improve on. It might be a little embarrassing to watch yourself speak (it was for me), but this is the most useful tool to help you improve. Finally, if you have the opportunity to practice in the room you are scheduled to present in without an audience, take advantage of it! This will give you the exact feel of the room and get you ready for the speech. Be PreparedVery few people can do on the spot speaking well, and it takes years of practice. Spend time organizing and preparing your thoughts. Tools like Microsoft PowerPoint will help you organize and highlight the main ideas of your presentation, but speaking should be the main channel for transmitting the information. Go to the room and check it out; see what kind of audio visual equipment is available for you to use. Check out the projector and microphone before you present. All of these infrastructure aspects of speaking can cause issues during your presentation, so it is always best to show up early and get set up. This will minimize the possibility of any issue while you speak. Matt Kangas, a regular SAP TechEd speaker, offers this advice: “A couple of things that I did learn though…1) use the restroom just before the presentation…one does not want to be standing there in the middle needing to use it!…2) keep a bottle of water handy…I did not have any water during my first presentation and I nearly died of dry mouth! Taking sips of water not only solves this problem, it also helps me slow down and collect my thoughts.” Being prepared will help you be confident for your presentation. You’ll have no doubt on what you want to say and you will be comfortable in the room, so stand tall and share your message. Educate YourselfLike I said earlier, speaking is a learned skill, so educate yourself. Every time you have the opportunity to speak publicly take advantage of it. The more experience you have speaking the better speaking skills you’ll gain! Check with your company to see what kind of public speaking courses they offer. Also, your company or community might have a Toastmasters club. Toastmasters is an international organization aiming to help people become excellent public speakers. Finally, most universities, community colleges, adult education programs, etc., offer public speaking courses, check out what your community has to offer and sign up for a class. Remember the deadline to submit your SAP TechEd ’07 session proposal is quickly approaching. Update: The deadline has been extended to May 6 at 11:59 p.m. PDT. Don’t let anxiety get in your way of sharing your knowledge with the SDN and BPX Community at SAP TechEd, now that you have a few tips and tricks to help you prepare. I plan to continue this blog series focusing on other useful presentation skills. Upcoming topics include organizing your presentation, Microsoft PowerPoint best practices, being the speaker, and delivery.